Get the Hell Out (逃出立法院, Wang I-Fan, 2020)

“A wrong movie makes you suffer for 90 minutes. A Wrong government makes you suffer for four years” according to the title card at the beginning of Wang I-Fan’s madcap Taiwanese comedy, Get the Hell Out (逃出立法院, Táo Chū Lìfǎyuàn). A deliberately unsubtle political satire, Wang’s debut feature ultimately has its heart in the right place as its hapless hero comes to the conclusion that he just wants to protect his “home” and, ironically starts to believe he can really do that through the democratic process now that the legislative palace has literally been destroyed and rebuilt, freed of “idiot” zombies. 

Bumbling security guard with a nosebleed problem Wang You-Wei (Bruce Ho) has relatively little interest in politics. In fact, he’s only working in the building because his childhood crush Ying-Ying (Megan Lai) has recently become an MP standing on a single issue of getting the building of a foreign chemical plant she holds responsible for a plague of “idiot” rabies in her home town cancelled. Despite the prevalance of actual physical fights in the parliament, Ying-Ying is forced to stand down after her rival colludes with friendly press to provoke her into a violent outburst which results in a barrage of misogynistic criticisms that she obviously has trouble controlling her emotions and is unfit for office. Trying to protect her in the fray, You-Wei becomes an accidental hero in the media for valiantly defending press freedom. What ensues is a battle of influence as both sides try to manipulate the political capital of You-Wei’s unexpected celebrity, Ying-Ying hoping to convince him to take over her seat and oppose the chemical plant, and her rival Kuo-Chung (Wang Chung-huang) hoping he’ll join his cypto-fascist “Better Generation” faction to support it. 

Openly described as a gangster, the garishly dressed Kuo-Chung is a symbol of thuggish, vacuous populist politics, expert at playing the system to his advantage. The irony is that You-Wei starts to use his political brain but is operating under a misapprehension. His goal is impressing Ying-Ying and he incorrectly assumes getting more power by throwing his lot in with Kuo-Chung will help him do that, but all she cares about is getting the chemical plant cancelled to save her hometown with a secondary goal of eliminating the threat from the weird “plague” she assumes is caused by toxic waste and turns the infected into rabid “idiots”. Some might say the political class is already zombified, a bunch of numbskulls drunk on power, or that it’s the populace who are sleepwalking through their lives, but no one was really prepared for the prime minister getting turned into a zombie after a meeting with a foreign head of state to discuss the economics of the chemical plant. 

As Ying-Ying puts it, she spent so much time fighting to get in to parliament, and now she’s desperately trying to fight her way out. Wang’s “infection” allegory takes direct aim at a corrupt political class who might not care about the various risks of the chemical plant because they only affect a small group of relatively poor people living in a remote coastal village while the supposed economic and political benefits are important for the national good. But what Ying-Ying and You-Wei come to realise is that the entire nation is their “home” and so they must protect it by making it better and that starts by curing the “plague” of “politics”. Nevertheless, even if you get rid of Kuo-Chung another like him will rise, identically dressed, in his place because the battle for democratic freedom is never really won. 

Wang throws every post-modern device he can think of at the screen from Streetfighter graphics to onscreen karaoke lyrics and ironic product placement in the greatest tradition of low budget, nonsense Taiwanese comedies with the necessary consequence that the gags come thick and fast and are largely disposable while the spy movie pastiche complete with megalomaniacal, techno-genius villain never quite takes off. Nevertheless, there is gory zombie action aplenty filmed with cartoonish glee and not a little irony as Ying-Ying and You-Wei attempt to fight their way out of the corrupt parliament before it all gets blown to hell only to walk right back in there afterwards with a positive message of altruism and personal responsibility as they commit to rebuilding better with a revitalised idealism and belief in the power of democracy purged of the plague of idiocy.


Get the Hell Out streamed as part of Scene Taiwan 2020.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Fagara (花椒之味, Heiward Mak, 2019)

Fagara poster 2“We remember the bad and forget the good” a regretful mother laments, trying to find the right words to connect with her emotionally distant daughter. Heiward Mak’s adaptation of the Amy Cheung novel Fagara (花椒之味, Hjiāo zhī Wèi) melts a subtle One China narrative into a heartwarming meditation on unexpected connections and the modern family as three women from three cultures discover an instant and easy bond, meeting as sisters in adulthood united in a shared sense of hurt and disappointment but learning to find the good among the bad as they process the legacy of their late father and the pain he left behind.

Harried middle-aged travel agent Acacia (Sammi Cheng Sau-man) spends her days fending off junk calls and booking discreet getaways for executives going on “business trips” with their secretaries. So, when she gets a panicked message that her estranged father Ha Leung (Kenny Bee) is in hospital she naturally assumes it’s a scam, only it’s not – she needs to get across the Harbour to Victoria Hospital, but in a motif that will be repeated finds it difficult to get a cab willing to take her. By the time she arrives, it’s too late. Her dad has passed away. So little does she know about him that she has to double check what year he was born on his driving licence, passed to her by a young man working at her father’s “family” hotpot restaurant.

On charging his phone, Acacia is shocked to discover that he’s been exchanging text messages with two other young women, apparently his daughters from other relationships in Taiwan and on the Mainland. Thinking they ought to at least know, Acacia invites them to the funeral, which, embarrassingly enough, she has arranged as a Taoist ceremony because she was unaware her father was actually a Buddhist (something apparently known to some of the other guests only they were too polite to say). Meeting for the first time and setting aside their mutual resentments, the three women find an easy connection, uniting to save the restaurant by figuring out Ha Leung’s secret recipe for his famed Fagara soup.

Though Mak largely minimises the obvious political allegory in favour of the human story, it’s impossible to miss the message that these three women are all daughters of the One China, let down by a well meaning but flawed “father” who nevertheless loved them all if imperfectly. Given the current tensions, some might find the implications of that message trite at best, but you can’t argue with the positivities of finding common ground as children failed by distant paternity, or as Acacia puts us, “regardless of the choice he made, he hurt us all”.

Cherry (Li Xiaofeng), the daughter from the Mainland, counters that she was never “hurt” because she was never anyone’s “choice”. Abandoned twice over, Cherry has lived with her grandmother (Wu Yanshu) since her mother remarried in Canada, leaving her behind. A young woman of her times, she’s staked everything on Instagram fame, rejecting the idea of marriage in favour of perpetual independence but unselfishly. The most family oriented of the sisters, she is determined to take care of her grandmother even while she tries to push her away partly in vanity, afraid to let her see the vulnerability of ageing, and partly not wanting to feel as if she’s trapped her granddaughter in a life of servitude to an old woman that will leave her lonely in her own old age.

Acacia meanwhile also remains lukewarm on the idea of “family”, resentful towards her father and insecure in her relationships, breaking up with a meek but supportive fiancée (Andy Lau Tak-wah) because he was only ever bold enough to say he was “OK” with getting married. Striking up a friendship with a cheerful doctor (Richie Jen Hsien-chi) who knew her father, she meditates on her future while trying to sort out her complicated feelings about her father’s “family” hotpot shop.  What she discovers is that her father, while useless at the business of family, had a gift for the family business, turning the hotpot shop into a makeshift community offering second chances to those who couldn’t find them elsewhere.

Uncle Leung, as they called him, was also the only one to encourage Taiwanese daughter Branch (Megan Lai) to follow her dreams when everyone else told her to give up and settle down. Unlike Acacia and Cherry, Branch has a relationship, albeit a strained one, with her mother (Liu Juei-chi) who, as she reveals to Acacia, struggles to connect with her daughter, never quite knowing the right words to say, always striking on the ones sure to work the wound. Heavily coded as gay, Branch is aloof and closed off, literally shutting a devoted young woman out of her life, but begins to brighten on connecting with her sisters, shifting from silent but deeply felt sadness at the funeral to a cheerful solidarity helping to make the restaurant a success. Of course, it turns out that the secret ingredient in the soup was memories of everyone Ha Leung had loved, literally a “family hotpot”. Finally learning to remember the good as well as the bad, Acacia finds the strength to forgive her father, seizing her independence and driving off into a freer future full of possibility but with her sisters, in spirit at least, right alongside her.


Fagara was screened as part of the 2019 Five Flavours Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)